Hurricane Harvey’s death toll rose to at least 14 Monday as rains continued to soak an already drenched city still dealing with emergency rescues, packed shelters, power outages and rising floodwaters.
As Harvey, downgraded to a tropical storm, retreated into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, authorities feared the toll will increase when the water recedes and they can launch a more exhaustive search. The 14 reported dead include a family of six who were lost when their van sunk after crossing a bridge and hitting high water, but Harris County sheriff’s officials said they had not found their bodies as of Monday night.
Parts of Houston had been walloped by 20 to 30 inches of rainfall, with the southeastern region particularly hard-hit. And it’s not over yet. Forecasters said they expect the swirling storm, once a Category 4 hurricane, to double back and come ashore farther up the Texas coast on Wednesday, potentially dealing another blow to the city.
President Donald Trump is headed to Texas on Tuesday to see firsthand the destruction caused by the storm and says he is confident that Congress will act swiftly to provide the state the rebuilding money it needs.
“You are going to see rapid action from Congress,” Trump said at a joint White House news conference with Sauli Niinistö, the president of Finland, with whom he had just met.
The president and first lady Melania Trump will arrive on Air Force One at Corpus Christi International Airport at 11 a.m., according to the White House.
In his news conference Monday, the president said he might return to Texas, and perhaps also Louisiana, on Saturday, depending on the course of the storm.
As of Monday, about 110,000 customers remained without power in Houston. Thousands of storm refugees filled city shelters, with nearly 5,000 people flowing into the George R. Brown Convention Center. The cot-filled center was reaching capacity, but other shelters remained open.
Late Monday, city officials said about 6,200 people were staying in shelters. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said officials are also seeking another facility to serve as a “major shelter.”
“The need is tremendous,” Turner said. He appealed to all residents in need to head to the center regardless of socioeconomic or immigration status.
“No one would be here if they didn’t have to be here,” Turner said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday activated the full Texas National Guard to respond to Harvey, summoning all 12,000 members to aid in search and rescue operations and other storm-related relief efforts.
Abbott met with Coastal Bend officials, praising them for their “heroic” leadership and promising that “we will be here until we can restore this region as back to normal as possible.”
“We’ve got to recognize a new normal, a new and different normal for this entire region,” Abbott said at a news conference with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long after a meeting in Corpus Christi. “We will not stop until we get as far as we can.”
Abbott said the top goal was life-saving rescues, followed by providing necessary food and water and restoring power. He also said that portable toilets are on the way.
The state is setting up water and food distribution points in every affected county, and they will be run by local county officials, Abbott added.
Residents in 19 counties already covered by the presidential disaster declaration are eligible for individual assistance and should contact disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA.
The 19 counties are Angelina, Aransas, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Harris, Jackson, Kleberg, Liberty, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria and Wharton.
The governor described Harvey as “one of the largest disasters America has ever faced, and to see the swift response from the federal government is pretty much unparalleled.”
Abbott also saluted the individual acts of heroism, including those of residents who went out on boats and personal watercraft to “save the lives of fellow Texans.”
“I’m so proud to be a Texan knowing who we are and what we are,” Abbott said. “I know we are going to get through this even stronger than before the storm hit.”
In an interview on “PBS NewsHour,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said more than 2,000 people had been rescued in recent days.
“We absolutely need more rescue boats,” he said, adding that some agencies are having trouble getting vehicles into the deluged area. About 500 Department of Public Safety troopers couldn’t make it past Bastrop to get to Houston on Sunday due to the flooded highway, he said.
Acevedo said: “If you believe in the good Lord above, I don’t care what religion, please send prayers our way.”